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Killer whales in a tight formation on the BC coast.

Save the whales: A decade of action for Southern Residents

For the last 10 years, Raincoast has been using science, public education and the courts to try and protect Canada’s endangered population of salmon-eating killer whales. With their Chinook salmon stocks in serious decline and targeted by fisheries, and a noisy and polluted ocean, they face extinction under existing conditions. The good news is they can recover if these conditions are reversed.

2017: A crisis for Chinook salmon

Most populations of wild Chinook salmon in British Columbia are in crisis. This crisis is not just about numbers of Chinook relative to recent baselines, it extends to their size, their fecundity (how many eggs females carry), their run timing, their age structure, and in many places, their genetic diversity.  Despite this, only minor changes to Fisheries Mgmt Plans occurred in 2018.

For the past 10 years Raincoast, with its partners in the Marine Conservation Caucus, have submitted comments and critiques to Fisheries & Oceans Canada DFO on Chinook salmon management under the salmon Integrated Fisheries Management Plans (IFMPs).  Download our critiques and comments on these fisheries below.

We also made specific submissions to DFO on the need to address Chinook harvest and implement threat reduction for Southern Resident killer whales

2018: A crisis for whales

In August of 2018 – after the death of another SRKW calf (to J35) and the death of young female (J50), Raincoast called for full closures of marine recreational and commercial Chinook fisheries and full closure of commercial and private whale watching on Southern Resident killer whales.  We took this step after months and years of input to the Canadian Federal government failed to result in necessary threat reductions and the declining state of the SRKW population.

Our August 2018 submission to the Washington State Task Force on SRKW (PDF) outlines the immediate steps that need to be taken to address this critical situation.

 Use Emergency Order provision of the Species at Risk Act

With our NGO partners and Ecojustice lawyers, Raincoast called for the use of an Emergency Order (PDF) under section 80 of the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA)

10 years of legal action to establish and protect critical habitat

In the fall of 2008, Raincoast and several other conservation groups filed a lawsuit to protect Canada’s two populations of Resident killer whales. Represented by Ecojustice, the case was filed on the basis that Fisheries & Oceans Canada (DFO) is obligated to protect the critical habitat of threatened and endangered whales. A 16-year timeline detailing government failure and legal action by NGOs can be downloaded: SRKW recovery planning timeline (PDF).  The series of legal actions ended with a win (supreme court and the court of appeal) for critical habitat protection, at least on paper. The details of the critical habitat lawsuit (PDF) are here.

Please support our petition to protect killer whales.

Take action now

In 2016, Raincoast, again led by Ecojustice, filed a lawsuit to stop TransMountain’s proposed seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic through the Salish Sea.  The case was heard before the Federal Court of Appeal in October 2017.  A decision will be released in 2018. To read more about this critical court case.

More salmon and less noise, disturbance, and pollution needed in the Salish Sea

Southern Resident killer whales (SRKW) need better living conditions if they are going to survive.  This starts with an adequate availability of Chinook salmon, their primary food source. In 2012, the US and Canadian governments (through NOAA and DFO) began a series of workshops examining the effect of salmon fisheries on southern resident killer whales.  Raincoast did not agree with some of the conclusions of their Science Panel Expert Report (PDF) and submitted our comments (PDF) to NOAA and DFO. We then conducted our own Population Viability Analysis (PDF) with leading scientists on this topic. One of the important findings from this analysis shows that more Chinook salmon and less disturbance from vessels can rebuild Southern Resident killer whale numbers.

Acoustic disturbance from vessel traffic

This expert testimony/report describes the importance of sound to killer whales and the concern for even more noise in their critical habitat. Southern resident killer whales produce and listen to sounds in order to establish and maintain critical life functions: to navigate, find and select mates, maintain their social network, and locate and capture prey (especially Chinook salmon). The existing level of noise has already degraded critical habitat and studies suggest it has reduced the feeding efficiency of these whales.

Download:  RCF – SRKW acoustics-NEB (PDF)

Population Viability Analysis

Since 2015, Raincoast has conducted two Population Viability Analyses (PVAs) on the SRKWs. A PVA can be a powerful analysis that evaluates and ranks threats to wildlife populations and assesses the likely effectiveness of recovery options. The first PVA (PDF) (2015) focused solely on the implications of Kinder Morgan’s proposed seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic through the Salish Sea, which has implications for noise and disturbance, potential oil spills and potential ship strikes. It was submitted as expert testimony in the National Energy Board’s hearing reviewing the TransMountain proposed pipeline and oil tanker project.  The second PVA was published in 2017 in one of Nature’s journal’s Scientific Reportsit addresses primary cumulative threats.

Both PVAs were conducted by an international team of renowned scientists representing academic and conservation organizations in three countries. The PVAs assessed the viability of Southern Residents in light of their cumulative disturbances and threats, including salmon abundance, increased ocean noise and disturbance from vessel traffic, climate change, contaminants and oil spills.

The Southern Resident population has experienced almost no population growth over the past four decades and has declined in the last two decades. Our PVA shows that SRKW could be functionally extinct (less than 30 individuals) with a century existing under conditions.  A similar analysis by Fisheries and Oceans Canada came to the same conclusion. Conversely, reducing vessel traffic (small and large boat noise and disturbance) and increasing Chinook abundance increases their likelihood of long-term survival.

Action Plan for recovery of SRKWs

In 2014, DFO released its first Draft Action Plan (2014 PDF) for Resident killer whales in British Columbia. Raincoast felt the document was weak and lacked action. With Ecojustice, Raincoast and a group of NGOs provided a critique of this Action Plan. Our primary criticisms are the lack of separate actions plans for endangered (Southern) versus threatened (Northern) killer whales, and the lack of threat reduction for food supply, physical and acoustic disturbance and pollutant exposure for endangered SRKW.

In 2016, DFO released a second Draft Action Plan (PDF), with little difference from the first. Again with Ecojustice, we critiqued this plan and submitted our comments (PDF) in August 2016. A final Resident Killer Whale Action Plan (PDF) was released in 2017.

Download: Comments on 2016 Draft Action Plan (PDF) for Resident killer whales.

Download: Comments on the 2014 Draft Action Plan (PDF) for Resident killer whales.

In February 2018, Raincoast and its partners submitted a comprehensive recovery document (PDF) that outlines the measures that need to be taken for SRKW.

In August 2018, Raincoast and its U.S. partner, the Wild Fisher Conservancy, submitted an emergency measures (PDF) document to the Washington State Task Force on SRKWs

Audio interviews

Two Southern Resident killer whales in the Salish Sea, with CFAX logo and Misty MacDuffee in the foreground

Interview: Southern Resident killer whales, fisheries, whale watching and the need for enforcement

Last week, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the David Suzuki Foundation made a joint call for action to save the Southern Resident killer whales. This call for action was made to the new Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Jonathan Wilkinson to immediately close recreational and commercial marine Chinook fisheries, to suspend all commercial and recreational whale […]

The dead calf of J35 floats in the waters of the Salish Sea.

Misty MacDuffee on CFAX 1070 on fishery closures, Chinook salmon and Southern Resident killer whales

Southern Resident killer whales need systemic solutions that reverse the increase in noise and interference with feeding, and that protect Chinook salmon populations. Listen to two prescient interviews that Misty MacDuffee, Wild Salmon Program Director with Raincoast Conservation Foundation, has given with CFAX 1070…

Misty MacDuffee stands in the rain explaining the risks to SRKWs.

Misty MacDuffee speaks to lack of government action on Southern Resident killer whales

What is the Government of Canada doing to protect Southern Resident killer whales? Misty MacDuffee discusses how the overlapping risks to these whales have not been addressed as of May 2018, with host Adam Sterling at CFAX 1070

Chris Darimont close up with the CRFAX 1070 logo floating in the background.

Southern Resident killer whales need action, not delay

Will Southern Resident killer whales survive the next one hundred years? Is the Federal government willing to finally implement the measures needed to protect and recover killer whales in the Salish Sea? How do Chinook salmon populations, shipping, fishing, whale watching, vessel noise and disturbance in the Salish Sea impact killer whales? Mark Bennae and Adam Stirling asked these questions and more…

MacDuffee laughs aboard a small boat on the Fraser River.

Misty MacDuffee explains why Southern Resident killer whales are threatened by industrialization of the Salish Sea

Misty MacDuffee joined Adam Stirling on CFAX 1070 to discuss the plight of the Southern Resident killer whales. Adam Stirling raises questions regarding the growing threat of oil tankers and shipping traffic…

Misty MacDuffee looks over the front of a boat on the Lower Fraser River.

Misty MacDuffee explains the lethal consequences of oil spills, tanker traffic and pipelines

Hear Misty MacDuffee on CFAX 1070 with Pamela McCall discussing oil spill risks to marine mammal conservation including Southern Resident killer whales…

Latest News: Southern Resident killer whales

A family of meerkats stand together watching, while a young member opens their mouth and shows their tongue.

From meerkats to killer whales

For animal species that form social groups, living together can have a strong effect on individuals’ chances of survival and reproduction, and ultimately on how population sizes change over time. New work, led by myself in collaboration with a team of researchers from Canada, the UK, and Switzerland, combines theory and data to shed light […]

Southern Resident killer whales spy hop with oil tankers in the background.

Still no adequate threat reduction measures for endangered killer whales

The federal government is instructing the National Energy Board to conduct a review of marine shipping associated with the proposed sevenfold increase in tanker traffic from the Trans Mountain expansion…

A Souther Resident killer whale is watched by a whale watching vessel: five logos on the right including David Suzuki Foundation, World Wildlife Fund, Georgia Strait Alliance, Natural Resources Defense council and Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

We are taking the federal government to court to protect endangered Southern Resident killer whales

Today, we launched a lawsuit to ensure our federal government acts to protect the endangered Southern Resident killer whales. The lawsuit comes less than a month after Southern Resident J35 (Tahlequah) carried her deceased calf for 17 days

J50 and Family in the Salish Sea

We’ve won our legal challenge to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion

Today we can all celebrate a significant win in our efforts to protect the Salish Sea, Fraser River salmon, and the Southern Resident killer whales. This morning, the federal court of appeal unanimously ruled that the Canadian government’s approval of the Trans Mountain Expansion project violated its legal obligations to protect endangered Southern Resident killer […]

J50/Scarlet and her mother, J16/Slick, travel toward the west side of San Juan Island, Washington.

Killer Whales versus Trans Mountain pipeline – decision time

We requested the court send this unlawful approval back to Cabinet with instructions that it must meet all of the legal requirements, which include addressing the risks to Southern Resident killer whales. The court ruling is due Thursday…

A quiet sunny day on the The Fraser River.

Wild Salmon, Pipelines and the Trans Mountain Expansion

As the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population continues to struggle from the combined forces of noise, pollution and food (i.e. Chinook) availability, Raincoast Conservation Foundation has released a report that highlights the risks posed to wild salmon in the Lower Fraser River from an expanded Trans Mountain pipeline…

Two Southern Resident killer whales in the Salish Sea, with CFAX logo and Misty MacDuffee in the foreground

Interview: Southern Resident killer whales, fisheries, whale watching and the need for enforcement

Last week, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the David Suzuki Foundation made a joint call for action to save the Southern Resident killer whales. This call for action was made to the new Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Jonathan Wilkinson to immediately close recreational and commercial marine Chinook fisheries, to suspend all commercial and recreational whale […]

J50 swims toward San Juan Island: a group of people stand by the lighthouse waiting and watching.

Fisheries closures needed for killer whales

The Southern Resident killer whale population needs your voice to demand that the new federal Fisheries Minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, issue an emergency order that also includes the following actions…

The dead calf of J35 floats in the waters of the Salish Sea.

Misty MacDuffee on CFAX 1070 on fishery closures, Chinook salmon and Southern Resident killer whales

Southern Resident killer whales need systemic solutions that reverse the increase in noise and interference with feeding, and that protect Chinook salmon populations. Listen to two prescient interviews that Misty MacDuffee, Wild Salmon Program Director with Raincoast Conservation Foundation, has given with CFAX 1070…

L92 comes to the surface to get a better look around; spyhop.

Endangered killer whales still await real action

The imminent threats to the survival of these whales require the federal government to take immediate action to reduce those threats, not ramp them up. The federal government already faces one killer-whale lawsuit for approving the Trans Mountain project and violating the Species at Risk Act…

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